Islands’ Counter Culture

Island life gets a reputation for relaxation, enhanced by the slow pace of rolling waves and leisurely bicycle rides. But what about when you just need some get up and go? While Sullivan’s and Isle of Palms are tried and true destination dining spots, the islands’ coffee “counter culture” is relatively new. With three spots to seek out that crucial cuppa joe opening in just the last two years, SiP followed the captivating aroma of deep roasted coffee to find out what’s attracting longtime locals and off islanders alike. By Margaret Pilarski Photos by Minette Hand

Sidecar Café ­

The new kid on the Sullivan’s Island block, Sidecar is named after a 450cc motorcycle purchased by its two founders while attending the College of Charleston. ­ is compact coffee shop is the “sidecar” to the New York-style pizza establishment 450 Pizza Joint next door. Sidecar Café manager Renae Ahring says that their large dining room and outdoor space make for a perfect place to sit and stay a while, whether it’s with coffee, dessert, or a well-rounded breakfast.


 “We get a variety of people from tourists to regulars like our friends Leo and Stan that stop in every morning for their coffee,” says Ahring. “We are very fortunate to have locals on Sullivan’s that we see quite frequently. ­ e morning beach walkers, especially with their puppies, really enjoy the dog-friendly patio.”

 Sundays, she says, are the big days. “We get everything from families to churchgoers, to bachelorette parties trying to recover from Saturday’s festivities.”

Ahring says they’re obsessive about espresso techniques and have a nine-day training program and a 78-page training manual for baristas to learn the perfect pull of an espresso shot. ­ e Sidecar team serves Stumptown Coffee overnighted from Brooklyn, where the beans are roasted.

 While the coffee bar serves up a variety of flavored lattes (think burnt sugar or lavender honey), Ahring says their standard latte is the most popular. “I know it doesn’t sound exciting, but we think it’s for two reasons: First our espresso bean is the Hair Bender from Stumptown — a very high-quality bean specifically for espresso; and second, we only use Jersey Cow milk from local dairy farm Lowcountry Creamery.

The Refuge

Open for just over two years, the Refuge has been, well, a refuge for catenators looking for coastal comfort. Co­ffee manager Angel Rice says their inviting environment is intentional and starts from the top. “‑ e focus was as much on creating a unique and nurturing work environment as on the guest experience. We feel strongly that employees who love what they do and where they work will provide the best experience possible for our guests.”

Rice says their baristas are constantly testing and tasting so they can recognize the intricate flavors of each coffee product, ensuring their meticulous skills optimize each beverage. Their co­ffee is sourced from King Bean in North Charleston, and makes for an excellent summertime favorite, the cold brew. “Their blends are smooth and rich with hints of nuttiness and cocoa,” Rice says of King Bean’s flavor pro le. Bonus — the blend pairs well with another locally made item, chocolate croissants from Pane Di Vita.

Aside from co­ffees, the baristas can also whip up the standards including lattes, cappuccinos and mochas, plus a rotating selection of seasonal signature drinks — like salted caramel lattes or a Mexican mocha. And all can be taken to-go if the beach is calling.

While visitors by day might be having a meeting with colleagues or using Wi-Fi to work, it’s nighttime visitors who see a special side of ‑ e Refuge Coffee bar.

“When the sun sets, the candles come out and the space takes on an elegant glow as a lounge for not just our regular co­ffee drinks, but cocktails, spiked co­ffees, and a huge wine selection as well,” says Rice. “‑ is year we’ll be starting a series of event nights with wine tastings, book signings and trivia nights to name a few.”

Café Paname

Family owned and operated, Isle of Palms’ Café Paname combines the passions of many into a neighborhood spot that feels like it may have been here forever, despite just rounding its ­ first anniversary.

The laid-back spot is run by Tery, Ben, and Paul. Tery Stimis, a New York native, met her husband Ben Boisson, a French antiques dealer, in Atlanta. Ben, known around town as “the French guy,” was also a cycling enthusiast and opened a vintage and used bicycle shop in the Beltline area, quickly becoming a haven for connoisseurs. Meanwhile, Tery’s son Paul Walker was completing a four-year commitment to the U.S. Navy, where he was stationed in Japan as an air traffic controller. (Are you keeping up?)

Post-Japan, Paul enrolled at a university in Australia for further study and while living down under, discovered a love for coffee. Upon Walker’s return to the States, the trio opened a coffee shop in Atlanta that catered to cyclists and coffee-lovers.

Though the family had visited Isle of Palms for years, they eventually saw an opportunity to relocate in 2016 and made it a mission to repeat their passion project on Isle of Palms, with the same clever-yet-chic quirkiness.

 Take the vintage VW bus that’s parked outside. “It’s open for patrons to sit and have their coffee or lunch, take pictures or hang out with friends,” says Walker. “Although we take coffee really seriously, we wanted to create a fun and welcoming atmosphere that encourages people try and learn new things about coffee.”

The café sources its coffee from a local micro-roaster out of Awendaw. “They share our philosophy of fairly traded and sustainably produced beans,” says Walker, who notes that coffees on offer can originate from Tanzania, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and more.

While patrons may grab-and-go as often as they settle in, the café offers a selection of breakfast and lunch croissant sandwiches. A crandwich, if you will. One of the more uniquely refreshing items is the espresso tonic — no naming hijinks on this one, it’s tonic water with a double shot of espresso.

 Walker says not only are they here for the long haul, but that Café Paname sees a central role for itself in the local community. “It’s important for us to be here year-round for the locals as well as be a fun and inviting place for tourists. We enjoy hosting community events such as meet-and-greets — some have been for city council members and the IOP police departments.”